I’m republishing this piece from my archives.
Someone in recovery circles once told me that if you have one foot in the past and another in the future, you are essentially peeing on the present. I try to remember that when I’m engulfed in regret—obsessing about all the things I did wrong in the past and wishing to God I had made different decisions. However, writing about my mistakes has always been healing for me because I’d like to think this small action could possibly prevent someone else from making the same ones. If I can help a young person or anyone who has recently been diagnosed with depression take a more direct route to healing, it seems irresponsible on my part not to share my detours and missed cues, to keep to myself the information that I now have.
Each mental health journey is so very unique. Therefore, I can’t tell you what’s right for you. My wish is that my story might give some person out there an ounce of hope that if she never stops thinking for herself, and is involved in the decisions of her health, it is possible to live a full life with depression.
What would I have done differently?
I Would Have Made Sure I Was Under the Right Care
When I was first diagnosed with depression, I settled with the first doctor I met, a man who saw me for about ten minutes every month, with whom I felt very uncomfortable. I put my health into his hands because, at 18 years old, I thought all doctors were the same, and I didn’t have an option for better care.
I spent 10 years going through seven doctors who all misdiagnosed me. Needless to say, I missed out on a lot of life during that time.
I’d advise people to go to a teaching hospital for the best psychiatric care, where you will find physicians conducting research on new therapies and medications to treat depression, tackling complex conditions by drawing from their own collection of data. It is there, in those classrooms and labs, that evidence-based information is produced – the gold that leads to miracles.
At a teaching hospital, you’re more apt to find a psychiatrist who will spend a few hours at your initial consultation and prescribe medications they know work, like Lithium, which has been around for a long time but isn’t going to make anyone rich.
I Would Have Been a Difficult Patient
As I said in another post, it’s only in the last three years that I have become a “difficult” patient—a woman who isn’t afraid to ask questions and probe her physician for more information. A good psychiatrist can handle it. She wants you to get well and will welcome additional research, inquiries, doubts, etc. If a doctor is threatened by queries, which I have experienced, I think this is a red flag that ego issues could impede optimal care.
If I were sitting in my first psychiatrist’s office today, 25 years later, I would be my own health advocate. Only I know my body—the way I suffer after eating sugar and white flour, the systemic weaknesses that surface when managing too much stress, the gut problems that go back to when I was a baby, my adverse responses to certain medications. Physicians can access useful medical data and pull information from their years of training and practice, but they need a patient’s input to customize treatment plans for difficult depression cases. If I could go back, I would have been invested 100 percent in my own health and been a difficult patient.
I Would Have Treated Any Underlying Causes
It took me more than two decades to consider some underlying causes of my mood disorder, health conditions that worsen my depression. I am growing more convinced that persons who suffer from chronic depression and anxiety usually have other ailments contributing to their symptoms that they are unaware of: hypothyroidism, gastrointestinal disorders, Lyme disease, hormonal imbalances, adrenal fatigue, sleep apnea, alcoholism or substance abuse, anemia, autoimmune conditions, and nutritional deficiencies.
Because of the current healthcare system, psychiatrists and primary-care physicians don’t have the time (and many simply don’t have the insight) to ask about a person’s digestive history or any other general health questions that would provide clues to an underlying condition feeding the symptoms of depression and anxiety. For me, cleaning up my gut issues, addressing my pituitary tumor, taking some key supplements like Vitamin D and Vitamin B12, and changing my diet made a substantial impact on my mood.
I Would Have Been More Educated About Medications
There is a place for medication. I absolutely believe that. Having recently gone through hell trying to taper off my meds, I am now more convinced than ever that drugs can be life-saving. I just wish I would have been more knowledgeable about their side-effects so that I could have better assessed the benefit-risk ratio, especially during those periods of my life in which I might have been okay with less, and definitely during the time when I was with a psychiatrist who overmedicated me.
I Would Have Learned Ways to Calm Myself Down
So many of my depressive symptoms are tied to my stress reaction. As I’ve said in other posts, I believe that my mood disorder is essentially a stress disorder—the tension generates static in my central nervous system and other biological systems that promote “dis-ease” in every sense.
Looking back, I wish I would have invested some time in the activities I do now—like deep breathing and yoga and mindfulness and Epsom-salt baths and massage and aromatherapy–to prime my parasympathetic system and reverse the detrimental stress reaction that can cause depressive symptoms. I wish I would have attended the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course back then. I would have felt more in control of my emotional health.
I Would Have Focused on Epigenetics Along With Genetics
We all have genes that predispose us to certain illnesses—in my case, most of what’s inside the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)–but the key word here is “predispose.” When I was first diagnosed with depression, I was stuck on my aunt’s severe bipolar disorder and suicide and felt certain that, because I shared some of her genes, I would end up hospitalized on and off for the rest of my life, as well. Looking back, there were too many conversations between my therapist and me about family history and what I should be careful about, and not enough about the freedom I had to take my health in a direction vastly different from my aunt’s.
I know that I need always remember my family history; it serves as a reminder of what can happen if I don’t take my mood disorder seriously. However, alongside genetics, I am also concentrating on the new science called epigenetics (meaning “above” or “outside” of genetics), the study of cellular variations that are not caused by changes in the DNA sequence. Epigenetics is closely related to the concept of neuroplasticity that says that we aren’t stuck with the brain that we were born with. We have more room than we think we do to direct our health toward healing and wholeness.
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